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College Football Playoff- The Plan

While the masses gathered last weekend for the National Championship game, the college sports conference commissioners were also meeting to find a compromise for the College Football Playoff.

Dennis Dodd provided an excellent summary of the status of negotiations this week on and the issues being raised. In short, it does not look good for a timely resolution. I find this insane given what I believe will be a financial windfall from an expanded playoff.

The original plan was put together by a working group composed of

Bob Bowlsby, commissioner, Big 12 Conference;

Greg Sankey, commissioner, Southeastern Conference;

Jack Swarbrick, athletics director, Notre Dame; and

Craig Thompson, commissioner, Mountain West Conference

working on behalf of the CFP Management Committee. The group represented two Power 5 conferences, the most critical independent, and the Group of 5 conferences. However, the Big Ten, Pac 12 and ACC were not in this working group and this is where some of the distrust began once Texas and Oklahoma announced they were going to move to the SEC.

Let's look at solutions to the issues being relayed per Dodd

Automatic qualifiers:

Original Plan- some of the Power 5 commissioners are concerned they might not automatically qualify under tho "top 6 conference champion" rule. This means they are worried their champion will be worse than the second highest ranked Group of Five champion AND that they will also be out of top ranked teams to qualify. Is this realistic?

Original 6+6 Plan

For the last three years this is how the expanded CFP would have been seeded per the original plan.

This is how the conference distribution would have played out.

Notice that the Pac 12 would have been frozen out of the playoff in 2020. This is somewhat of an anomaly because it was the COVID year and the lack of games for Pac 12 teams. However, you could see a scenario where the top team in a Power 5 conference was on probation and the conference "champion" is a 8-4 team that is ranked in the 20-25 range and there are two Group 5 champions ranked higher.

This is the core of the Pac-12 and ACC commissioner's push back to the original plan. The absolute worst case scenario is for their conference to be frozen out of the 12-team playoff. However, if one studies the entire period of the CFP (2014-2021) and projects a 12-team scenario to it, I believe this is the ONLY time a Power 5 conference champion school is potentially frozen out. It is largely an irrelevant debate except that it enrages the Group of 5 conferences to not support the the entire plan.

5+1+6 Plan

Their plan dubbed the 5+1+6 plan guarantees a playoff slot for each of the Power 5 conference champions. Here is what that plan would have looked like in 2019-2021.

You can see the only real difference between the two plans is Oregon instead of Coastal Carolina in the 12th seed slot in 2020.

So what is the big deal? Well let's look at how the conference distribution would have played out.

Any revision to the CFP needs unanimous approval of ALL ELEVEN of the conferences listed NOT just the Power 5 conferences. Who is not going to support this plan? The Group of 5 conferences are effectively being thrown a single bone of a single CFP slot and told they should accept that when even the history for the last few years indicates there was at least one time they deserved more than a single CFP slot.

This is truly the classic NCAA conundrum - what is good for some members is not good for all. The truth is a single plan that meets all of the members needs is very challenging and requires creativity.

So the Power 5 conferences want guarantees that they have at least one member in the CFP. The Group of 5 conferences want as many members in as possible and accounts for the perceived disrespect they constantly get from the Power 5 conferences. The SEC wants more at large qualifiers then there currently exists. I believe my solution would take address all three stakeholders.

LarryTheGM- 5+2+5 Plan

This plan is a hybrid of the two plans with a specific idea for the Group of 5 conferences. I would guarantee a playoff slot for each Power 5 conference champions. I would ALSO guarantee the top TWO Group of Five conference champions were also in the CFP. There would be one qualification for both groups.

All of the Power 5 Conference champions and both of the Group of 5 champions would all need to be rated in the top 25 of the CFP committee poll. This would address the concern of some stakeholders that are concerned about the 12-team playoff getting watered down with unqualified teams.

Here is how my plan would have played out over the past three years.

The Big Ten would lose the #10 Michigan St in 2021 and #11 Indiana in 2020. The Pac-12 would lose #11 Utah in 2019. I don't think their should be upheaval with regard to letting in a second Group of 5 conference member to insure the expanded playoff plan gets approved.

As shown on the left, the Sun Belt and Mountain West get members in the CFP where both of the previous plans would have frozen them out.

The SEC keeps the same number of teams over the three year period as either one of the previous plans.

I basically would claim that that the 5+2+5 plan is the compromise NEEDED to get the unanimous endorsement of all 11 conferences.

Revenue Distribution:

Not surprisingly, perhaps, the biggest issue is money. This is the hardest issue to address without knowing the details of the current system and too many numbers could easy overwhelm anyone.

Let's go with a couple of numbers from Dodd's article about the CURRENT system

  • Approximately $475M gross revenue

  • Approximately 22% of that goes to the Group of 5 conferences ($105M)

  • Power 5 Conferences receive at least $66M a year

Dodd also states that they project the 12 team playoff will generate $1BILLION in gross revenue. How would I divide that up?

  • NCAA gets 10% to run the CFP and pay expenses and help other sports. Is this above or below current? I don't know. I assume the NCAA will take a cut.

  • Now the pie is 90% for the others to divide.

  • The Group of 5 conferences will split 15% of the $1B (or $150M - up nearly 50%).

    • Remember the 5+2+5 plan has 2 Group of 5 schools in the 12 team playoff even if they are not in the top 12 (but they are in the top 25.)

    • How did I get 15%?

      • 15% = 90% * 2 teams/ 12 total teams

      • In a year there is only only Group of 5 team in the top 25, the Group of 5 would divide 10%. (The other 5% would go to the Power 5 conference or Independent with the extra participant below.)

    • Each Group of 5 conference would get

    • No CFP participants 2.1% ($21M)

    • One CFP participant 4.3% ($43M)

    • Two CFP participants 6.4% ($64M)

  • This leaves 75% for the Power 5 conferences and independents that are in the CFP dividing that up for 10 CFP participants

  • Power 5 Schools

    • First Team in from each conference - 10% each (50% total)

    • For every team after the first each conference gets an additional 5% (25% total)

      • One CFP participant 10%

      • Two CFP participants 15%

      • Three CFP Participants 20%

      • Four CFP Participants 25%

  • Independent Schools

    • Schools get 5% for participating in CFP

    • Before one screams that is unfair to independents, remember that means they would get paid $50M that they do not have to divide with anyone else.

Over the last three years this is what the average for each conference would have been IF this system had been in place.

Please explain to me who loses with this system. Perhaps the independents would be worse off IF they never made it to the CFP. They are huge winners if they do.


I would propose to use the bowls in a very similar way that was initially proposed in June.

Schedule- timing is spaced out to allow fans time to attend multiple games and to travel.

  • The first round of games would be held on the third Friday (1 game) and third Saturday (3 games) of December.

  • The four quarterfinal games should be held at 12/31 8PM EST, 1/1 12PM EST, 1/1 4PM EST, and 1/1 8PM EST

  • The two semifinal games should be held on the Saturday that falls in the 1/11-1/17 date window. Game times 2PM EST and 6:30PM EST.

  • The national title game would be on the Saturday two weeks after the semifinals (1/25-1/31). Game time 6:30PM EST.

A decision seems to have been made to include the bowls in whatever 12-team CFP scenario there is. Many bowls have a contract with either the NCAA and/or conferences. Until those contracts have expired, it is likely the bowls will have to have their interests addressed.


  • The first round of games would be hosted

    • on the campuses of the 5-8 seeds or

    • if the home universities chose at regionally close domed stadium. Domed facilities in order of capacity (Arlington, New Orleans, Houston, Atlanta, Inglewood (LA), St. Louis, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Las Vegas, Detroit, San Antonio, Glendale (Phoenix), Toronto?, Syracuse, Seattle (T-Mobile?), Tampa (Tropicana))

  • The four quarterfinal games would be held

    • At four of the traditional New Years Six Bowl Sites (Cotton, Fiesta, Orange, Peach, Rose, and Sugar)

    • The Rose Bowl would get the 1/1 4PM slot every year- Every year the Rose Bowl will be a quarterfinal game

    • If three other NY6 bowls WANT to be permanent quarterfinal games they can choose that as well

    • The top seeds would choose the location of their quarterfinal game the day the seedings are announced

  • The two semifinal games would be held

    • At the other two of the traditional New Years Six Bowl Sites

    • This assumes at least two of the NY6 would be interested in semifinals games. Fiesta, Peach, and Cotton are likely to make this choice.

    • If there are more than two NY6 bowls wanting to be semifinals

      • They can bid for this or

      • It can be setup on a rotation

  • The National Championship will be bid upon like it is now.

Health and Welfare:

Apparently, the ACC is raising concerns about a team potentially having to play a 17-game season. It has been reported that the ACC favors an 8-team CFP format because then two teams have to ONLY play 16-games. In truth, the ACC is posturing and trying to delay the process to push Notre Dame to join the ACC so that the conference can renegotiate it's TV deal with ESPN.

I see the following possible solutions:

  • Notre Dame chooses to join the ACC - likelihood 2/10

  • ACC accepts the 12-team format and stops filibustering negotiations- likelihood 5/10

  • ESPN agrees to renegotiate the ACC TV deal as part of a guarantee that they gets significant media rights of the 12-team CFP media package and this causes the ACC to stop filibustering- likelihood 8/10

To spur the parties to finish the task lets look at what the options for the CFP would have looked like in 2021 and dream about how that would have been playing out this month.

Option one- the top four conference CHAMPIONS are guaranteed the 1-4 seeds.

You notice that in the Rose Bowl and the Peach Bowl the most likely bracket leads to a rematch. The CFP committee could chose to flip Ohio St. and Ole Miss and the bracket then looks like this,

I think one of the biggest debate points should be whether the top four conference champs should be seeded 1-4. This was done to place a significant value on winning a conference championship.

What does it look like without this?

This is probably the most balanced and competitive bracket. I think the question comes down to how much do the CFP stakeholders want to reward a conference championship.

Spend some time looking at these 12-team CFP games. How excited would you be to watch these games?

It is amazing to see the complete what Bob Bowlsby calls "parochiality" that all parties are deploying in these negotiations while they throw away tens of millions of dollars to each conference. I have addressed with what I consider fairly simple solutions to the main issues Dennis Dodd reported were challenging negotiations. I am sure there are more issues and some stakeholders will come up with reasons these solutions won't work. IF the NCAA put as much energy into issue resolution as I have here, I am confident the could find solutions. They are welcome to start with these as a framework.

So what do you think? Will we get a 12-team CFP and what will it look like? Please come to the forums to let me know what you think.

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